Three days have passed since the sixth SFAN Business Breakfast Meeting. The breakfast was established to provide a space where young professionals and startup founders can explore important business subjects with industry leaders in an unprecedented environment and at non-prohibitive cost.
With a keynote panel led by Magdalene Teiko, Associate Editor at Pulse Ghana and featuring Ayesha Bedwei, Tax Partner and Africa Diversity and Inclusion Leader at PwC, Patrick Quantson, Head of Digital Payments at Stanbic Bank, Dentaa Amoateng MBE, Founder and CEO of GUBA Enterprise, Emmanuel Anni-Acquah, Financial Controller at Schlumberger, and Anita Erskine, Media Professional, the meeting was held on theme, Financial Intelligence for Millennial Entrepreneurs.
In retrospection, below are some thoughts that stood out to me from the #SFANBreakfast expert panel.
At the early stage of your startup, you are the chairman, developer, designer, customer rep, and everything in-between. And that’s okay.
“At the early stage of the business, it has to be you doing all the work. It’s your idea, it’s your vision.”
– Dentaa Amoateng MBE, Founder and CEO of GUBA Enterprise
In the book, Scale or Fail: How to Build Your Dream Team, Explode Your Growth, and Let Your Business Soar, Allison Maslan provides the following five-stage framework for growing a company:
Stage 1: The Seeker – You rule and run the domain. You are the domain. You create, sell, implement, do and are responsible for everything.
Stage 2: The Pioneer – You have one to a small handful of employees. You begin to delegate but are still approving everything that comes in and out of your company.
Stage 3: The Ringleader – It can feel like a circus at times! You begin building small teams (e.g. admin, customer service, marketing). At this stage, you are getting clear on your vision. You are leading team meetings and developing systems and processes. You are spread way too thin. People are not too clear about their roles.
Stage 4: The Co-Creator – You begin to recruit or promote team leaders to co-create the solutions and brainstorm new ideas and opportunities. Your people become just as committed as you to your vision and begin asking: How can we delight our customers? How can we innovate? How can we increase revenue?
Stage 5: Visionary – At this stage of the game, they don’t need you. You have great people in place who are devoted and committed to the vision. You step back from meetings and stop providing your cents. You let go of the day-to-day and focus exclusively on the big picture.
Over at GUBA Enterprise, Dentaa Amoateng understands this. Speaking from her experience of growing the company into a well-established brand, she is familiar with the concept that it starts with you. As a startup founder, you are the business, and the business is the product. Hence, when building your tribe and brand, you are the immediate reflection of your product. “When I first started GUBA, to get the word out, I had to go out, and do the work myself,” she says. “At first, I wasn’t confident about speaking to people face-to-face. But you have to start talking about what you’re doing or planning to do. You have to start being confident about what you’re trying to sell. At the early stage, it has to be you doing all the work, until you’re able to get a brand manager, comms manager, etc. — It’s your idea, it’s your vision. I remember going to so many events and you come home and you’re tired.”
If you don’t do the leg work, no one will do it for you.
Stay true to your vision and prosper
“People forget that social media is a marketplace. So, you can’t just rush to put stuff out if you haven’t figured out what your service identity is.”
– Patrick Quantson, Head of Digital Payments at Stanbic Bank
Ask any entrepreneur, he or she will tell you: people don’t buy what you do, they buy the reason you do it. As such, it’s imperative that you understand the problem you’re solving and how to communicate your offering. Thankfully, Social Media provides a unique opportunity to engage your tribe customers and showcase your culture to prospective employees and investors. “Most of the people we hire are new graduates,” says Ayesha Bedwei, Tax Partner and Africa Diversity and Inclusion Leader at PwC. “They always say they applied to PwC because they saw our post on Social Media about our corporate social responsibility. So, we know who our target audience is for the different things that we do. Apart from doing research online, you can also contract a researcher to get accurate data.”
The market always wins.
Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs don’t use Social Media properly. They don’t have frameworks that allow them to create coherence. “I like data, but I prefer insights,” Patrick explains. “Sitting in an incubator like Stanbic Incubator, what I have seen is that some businesses that come through don’t spend a lot of time getting insight around what matters to the customer. And I see this around tech companies –they get excited with the tech and start building stuff without engaging the customer. And it’s not just solving for the customer but also how you want the customer to experience what you’re putting out. Insight is meaningful data, but extracting insight that speaks to what the customer wants. The thing about putting something on Social Media borders around your identity. People forget that social media is a marketplace. So, you can’t just rush to put stuff out if you haven’t figured out what your service identity is. It’s really about building an identity you want people to see. People need to spend time figuring that out before you put things out because you have to support it with structures to help you interact with the customer when the technology doesn’t work properly. And the thing about identity is that it is what people say about you when you’re not there.”
For Dentaa Amoateng, CEO of GUBA Enterprise, it’s not only about selling on Social Media, but it’s also the one-to-one conversations that often make the difference. “It’s communication, meeting people. You have to be able to go out there and talk about your work. Just using social media won’t get you where you’re going. Also, look the part of what you’re selling. You have to make sure you’re branding yourself properly, it’s vital.”
If you put in the work, the money will follow
“Everybody that wants to give you money wants to first find out the metrics — what you’ve done.”
– Emmanuel Anni-Acquah, Finance Controller at Schlumberger
Under-capitalization is still one of the leading causes of business failure on the continent. With few local early-stage investors present in many African countries, the pipeline for bigger-ticket investors is often slim.
Speaking on this subject, Emmanuel Anni-Acquah, Finance Controller at Schlumberger, observed that many entrepreneurs do not have the building blocks investors look for in businesses. “Everybody that wants to give you money wants to first find out the metrics — what you’ve done. They’ll want to see your data. If you want to attract funding, you need to have some traction. When you have a product, then start thinking: how can I demonstrate to an investor that I have come this far? Create your story, and ensure you have data that’s backing that story.”
From Patrick’s experience, people often confuse access to funding with access to the market. “Sometimes people come into the room and say, they need money. But when you provide them, customers, they can sell to; they might not need that money to start with,” he says. “I always urge entrepreneurs to be very clear with their internal structures before they take on equity. Don’t be in a hurry to take other people’s money. You must do the work — and today there are lots of safe places that can help you learn in the process. Put in the time to understand your business. To be fair, there is a lot of money in the system. If you started your business and you’re in the early stage, stay away from bank loans. You don’t want someone who will come to you tomorrow, and say give me a 10% interest. You need a bit of time to understand how to iterate your product if it goes to the customer. Start from the foundations and grant organizations.”
Yet, as important as money is to an entrepreneur’s journey, it does not always have to be cash.
Emmanuel further clarifies: There is also sweat equity. You need money but the question is how much money do you need? Should it be cash or value like an office space or advisory?
You cannot buy experience from the store
“As an entrepreneur, if you’re not willing to go all the way down to the grassroots to understand what the core problem is, you will not be able to build things that matter.”
– Anita Erskine, Media Mogul
Expressed succinctly by Patrick, every #SFANBreakfast panelist emphasizes the importance of mentorship and patience as you work on your ideas.
“Humility is a powerful word. Humility will not feed you, but it will get you into a place that will feed you,” Anita Erskine begins. “We were having a wonderful conversation earlier about the sense of entitlement. I come from a background where my parents ensured me and my siblings went to the best schools. However, if that safe space was a creation of your own, it looks like this: if you want more than I have given you, you have to create it. You have to create and grow that backbone; that thick skin that allows you to be anybody – and everybody – at any time, and still maintain that halo that makes people connect with you because you’re a good person.”
“Before I went to Canada to study, I had worked at Metro TV for two years. This means a few people knew who I was. But from the first day in Canada, one thing that stuck with me is, it doesn’t matter what dues you paid in your previous background, you will have to pay new dues. And those dues mean starting from ground zero. Today, I can have a conversation with anyone — whether super-high or super-low — and still understand what their core problem is. As an entrepreneur, if you’re not willing to go all the way down to the grassroots to understand what the core problem is, you will not be able to build things that matter.”
Speaking in consonance, Ayesha told the audience how a conversation with her University Guidance Counselor led to her choosing her present career path. And, starting a blog to provide simple career answers to young people. “When I applied to PwC after college, they said, no. But I picked myself up, did other things, and eventually, when I came back to Ghana, I ended up getting a job at the same PwC. Now I’m a partner. People need to understand, sometimes ‘no’ is a way for you to explore other things in your life, and come back, and have a more impactful position. Maybe if I’d gotten into PwC in London, I wouldn’t be a partner today,” she says.
For Dentaa, before you approach someone for mentorship, you must be specific about what you need. That way, people will take you seriously and help you.
If you don’t know how to manage your personal finance, you don’t have a financial future
“Managing your personal and business finance is all based on the basic principles. It’s actually about planning your life and executing accordingly.”
– Ayesha Bedwei, Tax Partner at PwC
When it comes to your finances, 1+1 will always be equal to 2, Ayesha says. As a chartered accountant and tax advisor, she understands that fact.
“Managing your personal and business finance is all based on the basic principles. It’s actually about planning your life and executing accordingly. Sit down, look at the income you earn and plan accordingly. It should be 25% for rent, 20% for food, 20 for transport, 20% for savings, and 15% for miscellaneous. There’s always room to save something. A story is told of a woman who was in a bad marriage and had six children. The husband left her and the children; she was living from hand-to-mouth. But, to keep herself in hope — because human beings live on hope — she had an old biscuit tin where she saved a dollar all the time in expectation to go on a cruise. 20 years later, she had saved over 200,000 dollars. She eventually went on that cruise.”
“It’s possible. We should never think that because we don’t earn enough, we can’t put anything away. What you put away today can become your seed capital tomorrow. It can become what you’d use to pay your children’s school fees or other bills. It’s important the way you manage your finances, and this is where humility comes in. You don’t have to have what every other person has. Let’s be good stewards of our money. Even when you can afford it, you don’t have to spend it. The formula never changes – regardless of whether you are saving with mobile money, cryptocurrency, or bitcoin.”
Be a good citizen, pay your taxes
When it comes to the conversation about taxation, Emmanuel believes it is one that every entrepreneur needs to have sooner or later. But the sooner you have it, the better. “Whatever you see a multinational do, you should apply that as well. The idea is that you want to build a business that will grow beyond borders. In my job, we do not sign any contract or engage in any business unless the tax manager approves it. Get tax advice about your business.”
Speaking from one end of the tax-compliance advocacy table, Ayesha encouraged SFAN Breakfast Meeting guests to focus on the greater good involved. “If we don’t pay our taxes, nobody will do it. There are basic amenities we cannot do ourselves,” she says.
“Secondly, there are different kinds of taxes: corporate and individual. One thing I know a lot of entrepreneurs don’t do is to get proper professional advice. If you want to be taken seriously, you have to demonstrate that you can comply with the laws of the country you operate in. You have an obligation which you have to fulfill. Record keeping is very important; you need to understand your numbers. It’s unattractive to work with someone who has no idea about compliance with the laws of the land – you will not be taken seriously. For a start, you can go to PwC and download the Tax Facts and Figures,” she concludes.
In closing this article, we look back at the central theme of the panel: financial intelligence for millennial entrepreneurs. Regardless of your career goals or background, money is a universal language. Therefore, financial education has never been a nice-to-have. It is a must-have. Every panelist underscored this fact.
To reiterate Patrick Quantson’s advice, you cannot buy experience from the shop. Your financial future is in your hands. Now that you understand the building blocks for creating the life and lifestyle you desire, it’s time to get to work. You can start right away and frame your future to avoid undue economic tensions and social pressures of the digital world.